Liquid crystals occupy an important niche in nonlinear optics as a result of their unique physical and optical properties. Besides their broadband birefringence and transparency, abilities to self-assemble into various crystalline phases and to conform to various flexible forms and shapes, liquid crystals are compatible with almost all other optoelectronic materials and technology platforms. In both isotropic and ordered phases, liquid crystals possess extraordinarily large optical nonlinearities that stretch over multiple time scales. To date, almost all conceivable nonlinear optical phenomena have been observed in a very broad spectrum spanning the entire visible to infrared and beyond. In this review, we present a self-contained complete discussion of the optical nonlinearities of liquid crystals, and a thorough review of a wide range of nonlinear optical processes and phenomena enabled by these unique properties. Starting with a brief historical account of the development of nonlinear optical studies of the mesophases of liquid crystals, we then review various liquid crystalline materials and structures, and their nonlinear optical properties. Emphasis is placed on the nematic phase, which best exemplifies the dual nature of liquid crystals, although frequent references to other phases are also made. We also delve into recent work on novel structures such as photonic crystals, metamaterials and nanostructures and their special characteristics and emergent properties. The mechanisms and complex nonlocal dynamics of optical nonlinearities associated with laser induced director axis reorientation, thermal, density, and order parameter fluctuations, space charge field formation and photorefractivity are critically reviewed as a foundation for the discussions of various nonlinear optical processes detailed in this paper.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physics and Astronomy(all)